Reviving Sri Lanka's Forests: The Power of Analog Forestry
Let me give you something from the first prime minister of this country. He said, My vision for this nation is a nation of educated gentlemen, farmers. The government has failed us. Failed us totally.
It's your future. If you don't fight for it, you're going to lose it. What is up, guys? And welcome back to my channel. This is the first episode of a three part series in which we are going to be diving in to regeneration in Sri Lanka. This series is brought to you by Skillshare and more on that later.
But for today's episode, we are going to be diving into the world's first analog forest, and that is here in Sri Lanka in Belipola Let's go. The Belipola Arboretum is the brainchild of Dr. Ranil Senanayake a World renowned environmentalist who spent the better part of his life working on systems ecology all around the world.
In 1980, Dr. Senanayake pioneered analog forestry in Sri Lanka as a means of regenerating our eroded lands with biodiverse forests during a time filming the Ulpotha wellness retreat, which was set in a traditional Puranagama village. They couldn't help but think what a wonderful model it would be to preserve and enrich our diverse ecosystems while also creating a viable tourism product around it. And so we hope this episode pique your interest into perhaps what could be an alternative way of developing tourism in Sri Lanka. So we are here today with Dr. Ranil Senanayake at his home here in Haldamulla.
And we’re so happy to be here of the love seeing your work. And I would just like, if you can tell us a little bit about yourself and tell the audience about yourself Well, basically, I'm somebody who fell in love with nature as a kid. I was, remember it was probably I was probably three years old when my mother and father took me out into the mangrove swamps down in Galamatiya in the south. into the mangrove swamps down and Calumet here in South. And I still remember And I still remember the diversity in the sky of the birds chevrons of birds flying at dawn. bronze of birds flying at dawn.
And that is the earliest of my childhood memories. And that is the earliest of my childhood memories. Mm hmm. Mm hmm. And what I've been doing all these years, all these years, I suppose, is responding to that emotion that was created in me.
Right. like discovery of Analog forestry, which is kind of like in my understanding, please correct me if I'm wrong, it's kind of like you're rewinding that piece of land back into what it originally was. It's authentic. The plants that used to grow there.
No, no. The thing is, I realized that if I want. At first I was trying to create habitat of how can I create habitat for these creatures? And I find that the best habitat possible that I could find in a human setting was in what's called a Purana Gama ancient village. Because there are old trees, there are rot holes there are Epiphyte as all the stuff in it. And I thought, Oh my gosh, okay, these Purana gamas are growing there. They are sort of similar to the forest.
They're analagous to the forest. Mm hmm. And I thought if I use my scientific knowledge now to create something that is analogous, just similar to the forest, giving all the space for the biodiversity to come back, but at the same time giving the owner of the land the possibility of earning something or getting some income, then I can have the people who own land to create forests that are analogous to the native forest that would bring back all this biodiversity and will give them some return. Yeah, and that was the start of creating that analog forestry. Actually, I started creating analog forestry for the birds, the bees, the frogs, the snakes and the lizards. Mm hmm. Not for people. Yeah.
It eventually wound up that this was the best design for human beings. Also, right to go ahead and then it's exploded and that's it. up here is the the that the western boundary. Mm hmm. But this whole area is 17 acres. It used to be a degraded Tea Estate state, then it became a grassland.
You know, like most of what you saw around in the. And then now 35 years since analog forestry has been founded, it's become this mature ecosystem. So this is a Brazilian fire tree.
It is also a keystone species, but it is a non-native species. So you'll immediately begin to wonder, is that really a good thing because of what we know about non-native or even invasive species? But actually, there's a reason why this tree has been selected to be planted here, and that is because we are trying through analog forestry to regenerate the forest back to what it originally was, maybe even hundreds to hundreds of years ago. And to do that, the original trees that provided the structure that this tree now provides would take hundreds of years to grow. So the only way that they have been able to grow this forest to the state that it was by incorporating trees like this, which provide the structure the forest needs as well as the biodiversity, as we were told right at the top.
You have owls creating their nests and that is the first predator and predators are the ones that lead the entire ecosystem. So since we've been talking a bit. Mm hmm. I've come to know that you've done a lot of work. We spoke about how it feels like you've lived many different lives because you've been a snake collector. You've worked at the zoo, taking care of animals.
You know, there's a lot of things you've done. Mm hmm. But if you can just talk about what it is that you are doing here Well, there's two things. This property and what you're going to to use where analog forestry began. Yes.
If I said this property and do wander around and take a look, this is an example. I set this up as an example of what any Sri Lankan can do in this nation. They can get a piece of abandoned land that is degrading and we are losing the value of this country. They can move there. And for one fourth, what this struggle to live with in Colombo to buy a piece in the city, they can create a place to raise a family in health. Yes.
And contribute to the restoration of the nation. Yes. And while doing that, make it beautiful. Yes. And have your very own oasis to live in. That's the goal, to create an example where other people can say, hey, this guy did it.
I can do it. Mm hmm. That's the whole thing. Teach by example. All right. All right. Now, Belipola is another thing.
Belipola began when I was in the ministry and I came back from the States. You know, I was a systems ecologist. I joined the ministry full of fire and wanted to make the changes. And I then came up straight on a brick wall. What was that? The Forest Department. Right. They were planting monocultures of eucalyptus and pinness and teak and calling it forestry.
And I said, Hey, wait a minute, this is not forestry, right? These are just plantations. And where is the biodiversity? Where's the rest of the forest? Yeah. Oh, you don't know anything about it. Our foreign experts have told us that this is forestry and they are. They go. The bureaucrats refuse to listen.
And in fact, I thought, Hell, okay, I've stood my ground for so long and I've been trained in the states, so I'm a systems ecologist. I better put my money where my mouth is. And then what he did was I sold a property.
I had in Colombo and took the money and then went looking in the mountains here for some degraded land where I could demonstrate how one could really think about building a forest. So what you see behind me is a great example of timber production, but done in a sustainable way. Right here in this analog forests, usually what you have monoculture plantations of just one kind of tree. They'd be pine or eucalyptus, which are very popular to be grown in Sri Lanka.
And you will look at that and think, Oh, that is how it's meant to be. But actually those plantations are causing a lot of damage to the soil and the environment around it and the biodiversity here. What is happening is that you have a jungle or a forest that is rich in biodiversity and among that you are growing the timber or the plant tree that you want to harvest for timber. And the benefit is that you're still going to harvest timber and you have that effect. But also it's going to be done in a way that once you harvested the regeneration, is done in such a natural, organic way that you don't even have to think about replanting. It does it so beautifully that it creates space for other trees to grow.
It just tells me that nature is so much better at doing this than we are. The thing that really resonates with me when it comes to analog forestry is the power that it returns to the people. Once you begin to live in symbiosis with nature the way you were really intended to.
Now this video has you really excited and inspired and you can't book a flight to Sri Lanka or make a trip to Belipola immediately. That doesn't mean you can't get started today in taking back that power. And that's where our sponsor for this video, Skillshare, is going to come in handy. The thing that I love the most about what you have said so far is people are hesitant to do anything that is positive or that they know is the right thing to do because they know they're going to be faced with a brick wall like you when it comes to working with the government, when it comes to policies. And I think that's where a lot of people either that either that there is either the brick wall or there's a bucket of money. Yes.
And then a lot of people go for the bucket of money and they go and I think the the in what in your story. And I think what always works is that you don't stop there because if if we sit around and wait for governments to make the change that we want to see in our country, never happen, it's never going to happen. And what I always say is that we need to, like you said, be the change, put our money where our mouth is. And that's what I love about what you have done. It's it's really important that people take action the way you have because now what you have done has an impact on us and we want to share it with the world.
And I hope that once we shared, it's going to have an impact on all of you who's watching in and will really make you guys think about what it is, the way that we should move forward when it comes to our environment our forests and even like you said, how we will live going forward. Health is the most important thing. You said that a parent can give their child and it's very common knowledge that we're all eating non-organic food without even batting an eyelid, not even knowing what the consequences of that are for the next generation.
So it's really wonderful what you're doing it, and I'm very excited to dive deep and learn more. So this, we were told, is another keystone species called the Benjamin Tree. So it serves two purposes. Not only is it going to help with setting the structure of the forest, but it also is a home for all the animals. And, you know, helps with the biodiversity as well.
We are now at the edge of the forest and this is a very interesting place for me because if you look right across to the other mountain, you get the glaring contrast of what the traditional forest in Sri Lanka used to look like versus what we have right now, which is the remnants of a colonial experiment agriculture, tea, monoculture, farming, all done in a very unsustainable way. In my opinion. I may be wrong, but hearing the way that analog forestry can help the environment can help the people and even provide the space for timber and other kinds of agriculture within its ecosystem.
That is a really interesting thing for us to venture forward into the future of it and perhaps leave this in the past. So what could be the regional impact when you have a like a place like Belipola Yeah. What is the impact not only there but like in the surrounding, does it benefit the surrounding areas? And if we were to have more places like people that have these kind of forests, like what could be the impact that it would have on the island. It could be huge because when I started Belipola and started doing analog forestry and studying the home gardens, I realized something else.
We have this idea of the Kandyan Forest Garden. You heard the story that we had the diverse forest gardens. True, we had diverse gardens, but this diverse forest garden potential was not possible until the British.
It is a British who did that for us because they brought and created Peradeniya Botanic Gardens Henrathnapola adaptable to botanic gardens and to these botanic gardens. They brought genes from all over the planet. And so if you look today around Kandy you will see that the biggest diversity of exotic species are just around the garden. And as you move from the garden, it lessens the gardens, then give the gene stock for the people to build up their forest.
So Belipola again is similar. It is a place where gene stock is available for the local people. Once they've seen the trees once to see how they perform. Oh, they like it. Yeah. We have the seeds, we have the plants and it spreads out. One example of that is one of the plants I brought in here was ice cream beans called Inga.
It's a tree called Inga. Inga edulis and Inga diversifolia. So this is the Inga tree.
And it's another tree that has been introduced into the forest by Dr. Ranil And the main purpose of it is to Nitrogenate the soil, but it also provides a very delicious fruit that is called the vanilla bean fruit. vanilla ice cream fruit Vanilla ice cream, Vanilla ice cream, bean fruit. Now, it sounds delicious, but what I've also heard is that the locals in the area have been selling this fruit, and there's supposedly an economy of about ₹12 million that have been generated just from the sale of this fruit. That's amazing. It's a landscape. Yeah.
If we change our landscape to support us at the moment, the only idea of a landscape that the government has today is how much money can we make of it? Can we get a foreigner to coming in? Can they dig it up and can we sell it? Yeah. It's a horrible low way of seeing our nation. Yeah, the government has failed us. Failed us totally. Because they do not understand this country.
They don't understand the ecosystems of this country and they don't understand the history of this country is tragic, but if they are not going to do it, we have to do it. That is our responsibility by this nation and by each other. We are a community.
We are not just people run by a government and we must grow as a community intelligent into the future. Let me give you something from the first prime minister of this country, DSN, and Ika, who's sort of seen the father of the nation. He said, My vision for this nation is a nation of a educated gentleman, farmers. That's how important it is. And I and today we are just being reduced to workers in factories and cheap labor all over the world. Is this development for us? I think no.
This journey has been incredibly insightful for both of us and it has sparked a curiosity and an excitement within me to create this kind of impact the best way I can as well. You know, I also want to create my own forest. Now, it doesn't seem too far fetched, and the beauty of it is you actually can, because right here behind me is what Belipola likes to call their biodiversity generator. It is a nursery. And what that means is you can come here and you can purchase these species to create your own forest.
Granted that it is within the same region, but what's beautiful is that you can do it and you can even inquire for help because this community is about spreading analogf forestry. At the end of the day. So it is possible for analog forestry to take place in a in an area where there are people living as well like it can be. It's a cohabitation in this whole idea, right. Because you see today land that was forest, whether it be here or South America of Africa or wherever, once we clear it and we occupy it, that human beings, we will not release it.
Yeah. Private ownership. Yeah. So if we want the forest to come back, we have to convince the owners you are better off creating an analog forest. It gives you more capital, it gives you more income, it gives you the possibility of securing funds from all over the world, etc., etc.. And it gives you a position of honor in your country. Thank you so much, Dr.
Ranil, for your time for sharing so much information with us. I really appreciate it because I love learning about this and I hope that we can share this message with all of our audience and that it will inspire you guys as well to take action and maybe even consider a different way of life. You know, what I'd like to say is thank you. It was a real pleasure because you guys, what you're doing now and the people we are talking to, it's your future.
If you don't fight for it, you're going to lose it. And like me, with all my years of experience, give you some tools with which to carry on the good fight. Good luck. Thank you.